blair_braverman blair_braverman

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Blair Braverman  Journalist, dogsledder, author of forthcoming book Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube (Ecco/HarperCollins)

The Department of Natural Resources just named the eight miles around my house a wolf attack danger zone, after decades of denying that wolves live here at all. Another dog was found dead. A beagle -- ribs peeled open, face pristine. No one here is surprised about the wolves. They've known about them for twenty years, glimpsed them, seen their tracks, lost a pet or five. But the surprise is that the wolves have finally been acknowledged. Was it the beagle? What finally did it? As if wildlife statistics aren't somehow political. // When I told friends from far away about the danger zone, their response was consistent: "fear-mongering," they said. Such confidence. They think the announcement is meant to drum up -- what? Hordes with guns and crooked teeth? Sarah Palin shooting from a helicopter? As if this lawless Northwoods town is waiting for blood. But our response isn't fear. It's exhaustion. It's another eye-roll at the DNR, at big green organizations, at anyone who claims to know about anyone else's landscape. I can tell my friends that successful, long-term predator conservation has to come from the bottom up. That ignoring local knowledge is conservation's deepest flaw. "But predators are really misunderstood," they say. It's Environmental Studies 101: The Three Little Pigs. Little Red Riding Hood, in the dark woods all by herself. // I've spent a lot of time in wild places. I tend to think people under-fear nature, rather than the other way around. And when my not-afraid-of-anything neighbor texts me, concerned, it seems he's got a point. "Carry an air horn on your dogsled," he suggests. "Just in case." My team runs alone, at dusk. It's not just wildlife: a friend's friend, a woman, was stabbed in the neck while dogsledding alone. Not that I'm scared. People are one thing; animals are animals. We all keep our distance, except when we don't. My sled dogs howl with coyotes every night. I think it's coyotes they howl with. #instaessay #wordsandpictures #wolves

(Cross-posting from @team_tanglefoot, where I share dispatches from my dogsled team.) We were going to run the dogs tonight, after dark, since by then the weekend snowmobile traffic would have died down. But windchill was set to drop to -38, and neither I nor Randy are masochistic enough for that kind of cold, when we can avoid it. By the time I'd scraped myself off the couch, around noon, Randy and his team had already left. I hooked up my team for an easy 12-miler. They were moving slow, trotting right out of the kennel. I think they're tired from two long runs in three days. // We heard some funny noises out in the woods, and that perked the dogs right up. Trees were freezing and cracking around us. And from up ahead, around a turn, came a bunch of shrill yips. Dammit, I thought. A pack of coyotes? I'd never run into them before, but I'd also never heard that sound. Of course by now the dogs were galloping, no chance of braking. Dog teams love the very things that get them into trouble -- moose, bears, passing trucks. We skidded around the corner and met a pack of orange and white hounds, running loose, with antennae sticking out from boxes on their necks. Yipping all the way. Bear-hunting dogs, and the hunter nowhere to be seen. The hounds stopped dead and we kind of crashed into them, and I braced myself for a tangle at best, a multi-dog fight at worst. I've been in enough of those, and they're terrifying--everyone biting at everything, ripped fur, screaming, blood all over the snow. It would be made worse, I figured, by the fact that the hounds were loose, taunting, and my dogs tied together on a line. But the two dog packs only greeted each other, heads and tails up, a few hackles slightly lifted. I called my team to keep running. The hunting dogs followed us a bit, then broke away, and with a few backward glances my dogs trotted onward. Hounds and huskies, going about their workdays. #instaessay #wordsandpictures

Mountain, Wisconsin: "An old man once told me that in life you get one good dog, one good gun, and one good woman. My problem is I had two good dogs. Threw everything out of balance." / "What are you missing?" / "Well, I got a good gun." / "Can I take your picture?" / "Only if you're in it with me." #instaessay #taverntalk #wordsandpictures #oralhistoryoftheworld #Wisconsin #OneGoodDog #bearhunting #hunters #single

When Leif went to sea, he’d never seen the world on television—had no idea what he was traveling into. He went because all boys went. On his first trip, at 16, he got homesick—he would sit out on his 4-hour watch shifts and listen to Norwegian radio. But he did well, comparing. Two of the other boys, also fresh, got so homesick during advent that they cried for weeks. Couldn’t even work. They got sent back early. The ship spent Christmas in Hawaii, where nobody had even decorated the trees. //
There was a movie theater on the ship, and a library, and a welfare officer came onboard at every stop to change the books. There was a shop that sold beer. There was a Norwegian Seamen’s Church in every big city: Hong Kong, New York, Seattle. The boys did sports, too—running obstacle courses on deck, and on land they played soccer against boys from 14 other countries. One time his ship played a crew from Venezuela, and the Venezuelan captain kept shouting into the fray: “Kick their legs! Kick their legs!” Leif laughs, remembering. He thinks his team won that game. //
Later he worked as a night watchman on a cruise in the Caribbean, talking down customers who wanted to throw themselves into the sea. Twice he saved them. He washed people’s rooms while they were tanning, washed the whole boat with fresh water every day. The boat had style. “It wasn’t a bad life.” But by their mid-twenties, most men found out if they’d rather plow a field than a fjord; or else they didn’t, and sailed decades until age or injury forced them to port. Leif came home at 24, eight years after leaving. He’d seen the world, and apart from Canada, he thought it all too hot. When he got back to Norway, he was surprised by how small the houses were. But he likes his home ground. He likes working with animals, cattle. “Them’s grateful for all they receive,” he says. “Them's satisfied regardless.” #instaessay #truestories #oralhistoryoftheworld #astoldto #Norway #arcticnorway #arctic #sailing #farming #travel #solidland #home

"Blair," she said, "have you ever met a celebrity?" / "I met a king once. He even gave me his business card, but it turned out that he'd made it all up. Does that count?" / She thought about it. "Only if he was a celebrity pretending to be a king."

"I've heard of a place called North Dakota. It gets cold there, right? They almost have a normal winter." #Arctic #perspective #winter #cold #NorthDakota #Wisconsin #Norway #ArcticNorway #nordnorge

November 17. We drive to Finland, to the Meat Hall in the middle of open tundra, just over the border, where Norwegians drive from hours around to buy cheap pigs' feet and slivered reindeer and jerky and salami and sex toys. On the way, around noon, the sun sets--one of the last sunsets of the year. Although I've overwintered before, lately I've been coming to the Arctic in summers; this darkness turns the familiar terrain foreign. It makes me nervous. I wonder if the overwhelming sense of safety I've felt here is due, in part, to the light. It's such a childish response, or an animal one: no darkness, nothing unseen. // There's ghost stories, stories about the underground people, stories about the northern lights causing madness if you go outside without a hat. I think of all of them. Here, especially--how hungry I can get for superstitions, for meaning and parallels in the everyday, for the book to write itself with as much magic as I sense in this place. At the Meat Hall, all I buy is postcards. // On the drive back to Norway we open the sunroof by accident, even though it's -16°, and because it's a new old Subaru we don't know how to close it. Instead, I recline the passenger seat all the way back, and as the car skids around icy turns, past shadowy reindeer, past the border town of Skibotn with its thin woods and RV parks, I watch the aurora shifting through the open pane. Green and long. Take a picture, insists the driver, so I do, even though I know from experience that the picture won't take. The northern lights fade on film; the photos turn out black and black again. #InstaEssay #TrueStories #ArcticNorway #Arctic #Norway #TimeofDarkness #superstition #aurora #northernlights #photography #writing

On bad days we called it the Goddamn Ice Cube. On good days, Summer Camp on the Moon. #icefield #glacier #tentcity #Alaska #nofilter

Torgrim went to sea at 14, north to Svalbard on a ship of men to spend his adolescence clubbing seals. "He came back, he didn't know the rules, you know? He liked girls but he didn't know how to talk to them. He asked his friend how he'd got a girl to kiss him, the friend said he just carried her up to the hayloft, she liked it. But when Torgrim found a nice girl and tried it, you can bet she squealed. Folks avoided him after that. But he just misunderstood, he thought that was the thing to do, to carry her up to the hayloft. He didn't know. How could he have? All he knew was boats, and to kill seals." #TrueStories #ProbablyTrueStories #wordsandpictures #InstaEssay #NotAllMen #norway #arctic #hunting #svalbard #gossip #WomenAreFromVenus

Arild lived alone. Each week he drove his sheep into the mountains, and each week the same half-dozen found their way home to him. That was a bad habit. He couldn't afford to keep sheep with a bad habit like that. He promised himself: the next time the sheep returned, he would write down their tag numbers, so he could send them to slaughter in the fall. Each week he made the promise: Next time. Next time. One day he drove them much farther than usual, past the graveyard, past the lake, into a clearing full of wild blueberries. An excellent place for sheep. But by the next morning they stood in the garden eating his late mother's flowers. As Arild herded them onto the truck, he realized that, by some coincidence, he had once more forgotten to write down their numbers. It was not too late, but he would have to go inside for a pencil. And to take off his shoes. Next time, he told himself. It wouldn't do to have sheep with a bad habit, who always insisted on coming home. #TrueStories #wordsandpictures #InstaEssay #norway #sheep #arctic #farming

I felt that the village came to know me. One night I woke at midnight to two teenage boys knocking on my window, inviting me to go fishing on the fjord. They showed me how to cast and reel, and when the boat's motor broke I sat in the bow and watched them yank the pull cord time and again, feeling motherly as we drifted slowly out to sea. The sun was bright, but pearls of dew formed on our bodies and the boat. We were all shivering. Around 4 a.m. we drifted over a sandbar and I jumped out, and one of the boys did too, and we all pulled the boat to shore. Back at the dock there was another boy surrounded by older men. "You pedophiles!" the boy shouted. "Let him go," said one of the men. "I was like that once, too." I walked home soaking wet, and did not go back to sleep. #TrueStories #wordsandpictures #fishing #norway #MidnightSun

The sled dogs were not in a circle around the tents so they could fight off a polar bear. They were in a circle so that the bear, when it reached the tents, would already have a full stomach. #svalbard #arctic #dogsled #TrueStories #polarbear #expedition #cold

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